Valve chief Gabe Newell is optimistic about the future of VR, considering the studio is in development of three VR titles—not mini-games or experiences, but “full” VR games—but what about the future of VR hardware?

During a recent press briefing reported by Gamasutra, Newell maintains he’s confident that PC-powered room-scale VR will no longer be defined by a single ‘VR capable’ room but rather progress to “house-scale” VR in the near future.

Valve's Gabe Newell | Photo courtesy Kotaku
Valve’s Gabe Newell | Photo courtesy Kotaku

Valve’s laser-based Lighthouse tracking system is by design a scalable solution, with Valve hardware designer Alan Yates stating “you can in principle concatenate tracking volumes without limit like cell towers.” But for that to work, you’d need a wireless VR system to take advantage of the multi-room-scale space, a hardware issue Newell says is actually already a “solved problem.”

“My expectation is that [wireless] will be an add-on in 2017, and then it will be an integrated feature in 2018,” said Newell, as reported by Gamasutra.

Newell’s “solved problem” might be in reference to KwikVR or TPCAST, two light-weight aftermarket devices that both use a wireless compression and transmission system that effectively let you cut the cord while in VR. Or quite possibly this could be a clue as to the progress wireless VR company Nitero is making, which Valve invested in.

wireless, room-scale VR made possible with TPCAST

Saying PC VR headsets could come stock with wireless transmitters in 2018 may initially seem trivial coming from any old software company, but Valve has been intimately involved in researching VR hardware and prototyping room-scale headsets since at least 2012 with its marke-laden VR room. Valve later revealed in 2014 they were collaborating with Oculus “to drive PC VR forward,” consequently the same year that Oculus was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion and attracted key Valve talent such as Michael Abrash and Atman Binstock, both of whom were already working on Valve’s nascent VR hardware. The subsequent falling out would set the stage for Valve’s first SteamVR-capable headset, the, the Vive, which would go on to be manufactured by HTC.

HTC's VP of Design Leaving to Join Google's VR Team

Valve’s ongoing hardware projects, made public at last year’s Steam Dev Days, delve deeper into controllers, with their ‘hand presence’-inducing grip prototype, and a new single-rotor Lighthouse basestation coming later this year. Just what wireless PC VR tech they have up their sleeves, (or what sort of “house-scale” VR games you could play), we just can’t say, but we’d love to crack a drawer or two at their Bellevue, WA headquarters to find out.

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  1. Hmz… atm, they’re rdy to do this gen hmd’s wireless, not sure if they’re up for 2nd gen yet, as it will require higher bandwith. As I’m sure new gen will have higher resolution and fov…

    • From what the companies claim they are able to do 4k@120Hz. I am still doubtful and can’t wait to try it myself with content I select before I settle on an expectation on image quality impact. But I am now at the point where I expect 4k won’t be a deal break for wireless VR.

      • Re: “From what the companies claim they are able to do 4k@120Hz”
        Do you have a source link to that claim?

        That’s impossible to believe they can achieve at this point over wireless, not without extreme (read: horrible!) compression artefacts.

        You can’t even do 4K@ 120Hz OVER WIRE at the moment!

          • That link is to some *claims* about compressing & achieving 4K @ 120Hz. Not proof nor product (yet).
            As well, my point is that even if/when this becomes something beyond an idea it will not be able to do it “without extreme compression artefacts”.

            Re: “look up the latest cable specs”
            Again, my point stands.
            There are no mass market/consumer video cards & cables (DP or HDMI) that can actually produce 4K at 120Hz even WIRED on a monitor today.

          • “From what the companies claim” is literally how my post started, what made you assume there is any proof.

            As far as the cable goes fair enough – but the next DP version that is supposed to arrive any day now does exactly that.

          • I was pointing out that 4K @ 120Hz over wireless (wireless also being what this article is about) is not feasible for the foreseeable future.
            I then pointed out that it’s not even available to consumers over cables today.
            Yes, future versions of DP/hdmi, alongside video cards that can support it, it will *eventually* become a reality for wired connections…but wifi ( w/o basically unusable compression artefacts/lag ) is not on the horizon/any time soon.

      • I am sure you are right, but Oculus is still acting like a corporate douchebag whereas Valve is much more abundant and open in their approach. No matter what, everyone including Oculus are going to have some steep competition in this space and while really deep pockets help, it does not buy you a guaranteed spot in the sunlight. I think Oculus has very much underscored that point so far. As a VR business owner, I just want VR and AR to grow but truthfully, I have a bit of hate on for Facebook and Oculus based solely on their behavior. That could change as I believe in forgiveness when people/corporations make positive changes. The next 3-4 years the top 2-3 platforms will emerge. Will it be Oculus? Not if they continue to act like they are.

        • Truthfully the general market doesn’t give a shit what people like yourself that hate Facebook think, it matters not one whit. I dont mean that with disrespect, its just a matter of fact. People will pick up a technology regardless of what the company really does if they like it/need it. IF Oculus supplies that technology in an efficient manner people will buy in, if they don’t they won’t but it won’t be wrapped around a question of exclusives. I also still cannot believe the VIve set can’t grasp that putting the fate of your product in the hands of a company who co-designed a product with another company is not wise and calls for a different play to bring people in, why is this so hard to grasp? It’s not just “being selfish” or “mean”, it’s a decision based on business necessity.

          The timed exclusive thing is such an overplayed card really, people get all butt-hurt over it and its honestly no different than when people waited like 18 months for Grand Theft Auto to appear on the PC instead of getting it day one on a console…. and you know what, no one died from it.

          • People dont buy stuff because of what the company does all the time. The moves oculus made is what made me decide on vive. once i get one…soon hopefully.

            Timed exclusives are fine for me as long as they are released for others in a reasonable amount of time. Problem is they arent all timed exclusives from what i read.

          • so true I couldn’t wait for the oculus no exclusives $350 it was looking great…WELL IT WAS ALL LIES

          • Early adopters yes, not the broad market that doesn’t read the press articles on sites like this.

          • lol it’s obvious you guys pick at Oculus but don’t bother to actually read the press on them much… they have been very clear on this point and how they see the long term investment with Oculus and VR taking several decades.

          • Re: buy that crystal ball…

            You wrote:
            “by all accounts they are in for decades of commitment. I predict”

            So maybe you can direct Patrick to where you bought yours?!

          • Easily – there are numerous comments by Zuckerberg that it will take a decade or more for adoption and they intend to be there. Seriously – go do some reading, it’s stated in multiple places and was referenced in the article showing Zuckerberg in front of the graph.

          • Re: “numerous comments by Zuckerberg ”
            I don’t care about these numerous comments from your boss.
            *Decades* – who knows if Facebook will even exist in decades. That’s just silly.

            Also, I specifically quoted you saying the words “I predict” – ironically just before you then ask someone about a “crystal ball”.

          • Okay – so if they say they have a decades long commitment, somehow its not true? No arguing with that kind of emo-logic.

            I can predict all day… the point is its founded in some kind of logic, not just emotional thinking when the company clearly is stating to the contrary.

          • “I predict” …”omg – you must have crystal ball!”…yeah, right.
            How much do you get paid being a Facebook apologist?
            What kind of exercises did you do to prepare for the mental gymnastics?

  2. “But for that to work, you’d need a wireless VR system to take advantage
    of the multi-room-scale space, a hardware issue Newell says is actually
    already a “solved problem.””

    Aren’t there some pretty critical limitations to the range/setup with the current wireless solutions? Until they can do some sort of extender I do not consider it a solved problem.

    • Not sure if he was referring to Lighthouse for multi-room scale being solved…

      Project Tango and I think Hololens as well can map a location, storing information about the environment, then during later use give you consistent positional tracking at house scale. They could also learn the wall from the depth sensors and provide chaperone-style playspace for the entire facility.

      How the games/experiences are going to adapt on the fly to a world with bounds unknown in advance will be an interesting challenge!

      • I was not referring to Lighthouse either … I was referring to the wireless adapter that needs to be able to connect to the PC over longer distances for multi-room scenarios to make really sense.

        But otherwise I fully agree and I am super excited for spatial sensors to be widely available so it makes sense to target them in development.

  3. Hmmm, if Valve really thinks that house scale is something that they’ll be headed towards, my guess is that they’re working on some sort of inside out tracking solution. I don’t believe for a second that Valve thinks that it would be practical for people to have multiple Lighthouse stations in every room of the house to enable them to walk around wirelessly. That’s just so wildly expensive, cumbersome, and impractical (don’t Lighthouse base stations need to be plugged into an outlet?) that even to suggest it makes me think that the Vive 2 will map the room(s) that you’re in and guide you with a chaperone system.

    • They REALLY need to move quick, Oculus and particularly Microsoft aren’t staying still with Inside out tracking and wireless VR.

      In fact I think the future of VR is standalone HMD VR, like Project Alloy with wireless capabilities for intensive games and applications to allocate the resources

      • Like it or not, the reality is Vive will only be one player among probably a half dozen or more in 8-10 years. I get people are in love with their toy (Rift or Vive) but the market will require more players and certainly support in the long run… be open to more than just Rift or Vive :)

    • I think personally the whole “house scale” is a lot of bullshit. I say that because everyone’s house is pretty different, what kind of environment would you be plotting for in VR?

      This frankly sounds like a “Gabe Newell special” soundbite designed to grab press for nothing. All I think this really means is “hey, we can reliably use more units over a larger space, approximately say 1500 or so square feet and little more. Not saying that isn’t nice, but placing it with a name like “house scale” is just marketing speak.

        • Do you really, really think that is going to happen? Of course its technically possible, but for what application? Are you honestly going to go traipsing around your house or apartment with all manner of furniture etc. to simulate some procedural dungeon run? A couple games might work with this, but over all it’s sort of like the headset cam, a bit of a gimmick without serious application.

          • idk what kinds of games devs will come up with. but i imagine that newell sees lighthouse as the solution for many vr and ar systems. a family could have different ar/vr glasses and some of them could be tracked with the lighthouses and others have inside out tracking but use lighthouse to track hand controllers (and other things like feet, guns, tennis rackets).

          • The headset cam is a bit of a gimmick? From this and everything else you’ve written, you sound like a totally biassed Oculus fanboi with no actual experience of a Vive. The camera is VERY useful for roomscale and placing yourself in the real world with the headset on., both from the virtual display on one controller and also the chaperone/room view. Admittedly It would be far less useful on the rift though given its limitation of being mostly for seated-only experiences.

        • No one said it wasn’t possible, only that it’s sort of silly when you think about it with very few significant applications. Am I going to simulate a sub and go lay in my bunk (real bed) for instance? Perhaps an AR scenario makes some sense, with virtual monitors around my space, or little creatures to lay with… I would see this more of an application in business than home, but still. If that is the case some real camera sensor deployment is going to have to happen on the Vive front.

      • I actually agree with Schwifty on this. A variable size squared-off space to play in is one thing, but once you add multiple rooms into it, game development is a nightmare. House-scale only makes sense for AR, and even then, game types would be severely limited due to developers coding for unknown playspaces.

      • Same as room-scale, but instead of your chaperone bounds forming a square play area, they’ll form a layout of all or part of your house. Just like room-scale, you’ll have to make sure your play area is clear of obstacles. When you approach a wall, your chaperone bounds will appear just like they do now. Transitioning to house-scale is really a no-brainer and completely expected for the Vive.

      • What will be awesome is when games use procedural generation to map the level to your multi-room play area. That way, there’s no mismatch between your play area and the level, meaning you can turn your chaperone bounds off and trust in the game environment. It’s gonna be wicked.

  4. This is all very nice, but most of us can’t afford the computers needed to run even the VR headsets. Either bring the price of the hardware down to an affordable level or rejig the VR software so it runs on cheaper minimally speced computers.

  5. TBH, as someone interested in using VR in a sim cockpit I am far more interested in HMD makers using 10-bit (RGB 4:4:4) HDR panels in their next versions than I am in wireless. I’m not knocking the importance of wireless (it is probably a more popular feature request) but for me the quality of the pixels is more important.

    I just hope HTC and Oculus manage to find a way to get rid of or drastically reduce the “god-rays” effect – besides preaching that devs should avoid high contrast – because I wouldn’t want to buy either until that glaring issue (heh) is sorted. High contrast is after all one of the most visually pleasing benefits of HDR content. :p

      • 1070 and even 1080 will struggle with supersampling and graphics turned up, better software optimised for the new GTX cards will really improve efficiency – The Lab runs beautifully with its dynamic supersampling.

        • Yes, better software and foveated rendering will make a big difference, but if a 980 can run current VR well then a 1080 will surely run a considerably more demanding VR just as well.

          • I agree optimisation and FOV render will make big strides. Its scary how quickly even the new GTX cards run out of room if playing with SS in demanding titles

  6. I think it’s fairly reasonable to assume a Vive 2 will be available in 2018, but I don’t believe it will be officially announced until Q1 2018, with a launch closer to Summer 2018. Christmas 2017 will be huge for VR and announcing a Vive 2 would hurt Vive sales for the holidays. I would expect a substantial price reduction for Christmas. New video cards are on the way this year as well, so the prices for 1080’s will drop as well, which will help VR become more affordable for consumers.

  7. If I was Valve, I wouldn’t hold back anything or wait, I’d go hard as possible right now. VR isn’t like the game console industry, people aren’t going to sit around happily waiting and enjoying what they have for 5 years while they wait for the next generation. VR is new, and the hardware still has massive need for improvement, and every day that the Vive/Oculus represent the best options available on the market, is in my opinion a day where the window for VR succeeding has closed a little without the industry getting closer to making it through. Yearly hardware refreshes would be best until around 2020.